Teaching science for over 5 years, I found we have ingrained conservation into the minds of our students. From third grade to college, they can rattle off a laundry list of ways they can make a positive impact on our environment. Things like turning off the tap when brushing your teeth, taking shorter showers, biking to work, taking reusable bags shopping, turning off the lights when you leave a room–it’s music to an environmental educator’s ears. After a few months of hearing this list repeated over and over again, my questions changed from “what can we do?” to “how does it help us?”
We need to conserve our water. Phrases such as “it’s bad to waste electricity, we can’t use up all of our oil, we want clean beaches” are not bad but not exactly convincing either. For my third graders, I’ll let it slide. But I’m going to press the rest to think harder. We know these actions are good for the environment. But what about us? Where is the immediate return on our sacrifices and investments?
It turns out that environmental responsibility is economic responsibility.
I recently moved from Miami where I had two roommates. I diligently unplugged electronics not being used, took short showers, washed my clothes in cold water and turned off the lights when someone left them on. It was a running joke that I was the only one of the roommates who did this. I took it in stride as our electric bill for three of us was under $70 per month. I moved away in June, but the last electric bill was sent to me by mistake. With only two living in the same apartment and no one turning everything off, the bill was almost $25 more.
If $25 really isn’t a big deal to you then multiply by 12. If you still can’t think of anything you’d rather spend $300 on, get in touch with me. I’ve got some great suggestions.
At San Diego Coastkeeper, we are focused on protecting our water resources in San Diego County. In exchange for your short showers, running full loads of laundry and watering the lawn at night, you get a nice discount on your next water bill. Heating the water adds to your electric bill, so consider that next time you find yourself lingering in the scalding hot shower to ponder the meaning of life.
Just how much are you going to save with environmental responsibility? It costs about 15 cents for a 10 minute shower in San Diego. One shower a day makes it $50 a year. If San Diego water rates increase by the projected 50% in the next 5 years, one person could be looking at nearly $75 a year. That’s just for showers and not counting the cost to heat the water.
Taking a 5 minute shower (enough time to belt out two of your favorite songs in their entirety) would reduce the cost to below $40 for the year. Even with the project price increase.
So why should we care about doing the right thing? Aside from being an environmentally responsible action, it is more often than not better for your wallet. Each time we cut our reliance on a resource, from oil to water, we minimize demand and the reward falls to you. And it’s not just water and electricity. It extends to our fuel consumption, urban planning and development, and single-use plastics. Changing our behavior to do what’s best environmentally isn’t easy, but it just might benefit you quicker than you think.
Not to mention, it feels pretty good to do the right thing.
While San Diego has a variety of climates, it is overall fairly arid and cannot sustain a significant human population without importing massive quantities of water from other regions. With a population of just over 3 million, San Diego must import approximately 70 percent of its water, mostly from the Colorado River. Our demands for water, however, already exceed the Colorado River’s supply. Compounding matters, anticipated climate change and population growth will combine to exacerbate San Diego’s water supply issues.
Climate Change: Climate change is expected to reduce the Colorado River’s water flow and could have a drastic impact on the supply to San Diego. A study performed by the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation projects a nine percent decrease in the River’s water flow over the next 50 years, and anticipates that 40 percent of the time, the region will be subject to droughts spanning five or more years. According to the California Climate Change Center, the availability of water imports from the River to San Diego may decline by 20 percent, with models estimating the actual decline will be anywhere from 6 to 45 percent.
Population Growth: If current population growth trends continue, another 1.5 million people will reside in the county by 2050, bringing the total number of residents to 4.5 million. Increasing humans means increasing demand for water. By 2050, desired water use is likely to exceed current demand by 37 percent increase.
The increasing demand for water, combined with the decreasing supply, makes conservation more important now than ever. There is a lot you can do, including utilizing low-flow showerheads and ultra-low-flush toilets, remembering to turn the water off while brushing your teeth and reducing shower times, or turning the shower off while you suds up. Outdoors, use a pool cover to reduce evaporation, water your lawn in the hours between sunset and dawn when the water is less likely to evaporate and, importantly, make sure you’re watering your lawn instead of the sidewalk or driveway. These are just a few of the ways that you can help conserve water. Click here for more.
Additionally, the City of San Diego provides certain rebates and incentives to residents who implement water-efficient landscaping or rainwater harvesting. Through their program, you can not only save money, but you can also become part of the effort to reduce San Diego’s water demands to sustainable levels.
On August 4, San Diego Coastkeeper and Power Scuba joined forces for an underwater and beach cleanup. We had walkers, kayakers, snorkelers and divers participate. The following account from diver Dan Prosperi and photos from his dive buddy Lida Chaipat tell the story.
When I started hearing rumors about an underwater cleanup in Mission Bay, I got pretty excited. On every dive I do, I try to pick up whatever litter I can. And this was an opportunity to have a whole bunch of folks hunt litter with me! So when the event was finally posted on the Power Scuba website, I was all over it!
On the morning of, I showed up a bit early, as usual, but canopies were already set up, snacks were already set out, etc. Raleigh Moody from Power Scuba and Megan Baehrens from Coastkeeper had done an amazing job of organizing this event. By the time everyone arrived, there were about 50 people there! Some planned to dive, some to snorkel, and some to walk the shoreline. But we were ALL there to make the ocean and surrounding environment a little bit cleaner!
Megan talked for a couple of minutes about water quality. It’s important, she said, to have as little water as possible flow from our lawns into the ocean. Inevitably, the fertilizer we use will flow into the storm drains, and largely end up in the ocean. There, it causes blooms of algae. Some of these algae can be directly harmful. But even more important, when all of those algae eventually dies and decomposes, that process takes oxygen out of the water, potentially suffocating the other animals in the ocean. This can lead to the “dead zones” that have started appearing along the US coasts.
Bill Powers (founder of Power Scuba) gave a pre-dive briefing, and we were off. My buddy Lida and I decided to swim a line between and under the boats that were moored in the bay. When we descended, we discovered that the water was about as murky as you’d expect in a bay that doesn’t get much tidal exchange. We could only see 1 to 5 feet in front of us. That made it a bit challenging to find litter! But we did manage to find a few pieces.
I was especially happy that we were able to remove several pieces of plastic from the ocean.
As you know, plastic doesn’t ever really break down. But it does break into smaller and smaller pieces. And the bright colors encourage sea life to eat it. Of course, once it gets in their stomachs, it doesn’t supply any nutrition. And since it doesn’t break down, it can get stuck, potentially leaving the animal to starve to death. Well, those couple of pieces that we removed won’t have a chance to do that!
As we swam along, looking for any trash we could find, I was impressed at how little there was! I guess San Diegans are pretty aware that the ocean they love will only stay that way if they keep trash out of it! Since there wasn’t much litter to see, I started seeing some cool critters on the bottom. There were the critters you’d expect on a sandy bottom, tube-dwelling anemones, sanddabs, and the occasional round sting ray.
In patches of eel grass, we found a kind of nudibranch we’ve never seen before. (Nudibranchs are colorful critters that look kinda like slugs.) In a few places where the grass was thicker, we found a few lobsters!
When I saw a beer can on the bottom, I was pretty excited. Another piece of trash to remove! But I knew enough to check it for anyone living inside. Sure enough, when I looked inside, an eyeball was looking back out at me! It was a little octopus, and I could see he was very happy with his little aluminum home. (Kind of like a retiree in an Airstream…)
When we surfaced from our dive, the safety kayakers quickly came to check on us. Another sign of some good organizing! We took our few finds and put them on the pile. The folks that had walked the shoreline looking for trash had had more success than we had when it came to volume of trash. All in all, the group removed over 75 pounds of trash from the water and surrounding beach!
Looking back on the event, there were a few things I took away:
1) There are a bunch of people out there that care about the ocean enough to spend a morning cleaning it up.
2) At least some of our bays are in surprisingly good shape, litter-wise.
3) Even a bay with lots of boats has a pretty good amount of critters living there.
Thanks to everyone who participated. I hope to see you at the next one!
If you don’t know, Coastkeeper’s legal clinic is a win-win-win-win.
- The students get to learn.
- We get to stretch our programmatic resources.
- The legal profession gets trained attorneys at graduation.
- We grow the capacity of the legal industry and the ethos for conservation issues.
At least, that’s how it was put by Professor Michael Robinson-Dorn from University of California, Irvine Law School.
If you don’t know, he was the founding director of the award-winning environmental law clinic at the University of Washington before he joined the program just north of us.
He was also our special guest tonight at our Signs of the Tide special reception at which we showed off the work of our five student attorneys that end their journey with us this week.
Michael said that the power of student attorney programs like ours is that we give students the responsibility to provide advice and take action to protect fishable, swimmable and drinkable waters—all with close supervision of Waterkeeper Jill Witkowski.
Some of the best clinics, he also said, go beyond litigation. “We should be training problem solvers,” he said.
We like that theory.
Immediately following his short presentation, we heard one-minute recaps from our five rockstar student attorneys who spent their summer working on behalf of our waters—for free. From collaborating on MPA enforcement programs, to working on the stormwater permit to narrowing down the border pollution issues to small areas of focus on which we can make an impact—our student attorneys solved problems across the county.
When you think about the time they gave—forty hours a week for the summer—we effectively grew a one-person clinic to the power of six. According to Executive Director Megan Baehrens, at a very reasonable $50/hour, that is around $10,000 value of legal expertise and action. EVERY WEEK.
In my world, that makes a win, win, win, win, win. In addition to points one through four above, an investment in San Diego Coastkeeper’s student attorney program is a wise investment in clean water for your community that has a major return on investment.
Like Michael said, “If you care about conservation and clean water, you want groups like Coastkeeper.”
Do you or someone you know have concerns about clean water in your community? Make your voice heard and get the tools and support to make the changes you deserve.
San Diego Coastkeeper is forming a Community Advisory Council to connect us with local communities. We want to learn about water problems in San Diego’s communities faces–and then solve them.
What is Coastkeeper Doing?
As you know, we’re a local organization led by motivated and passionate staff and volunteers who protect and restore fishable, swimmable and drinkable water in San Diego County. We want to help communities find and fix local, water-related problems.
Be a voice for your community.
Coastkeeper needs San Diego County residents to serve as founding members of the advisory council. The goal? To identify water-related problems in your community and find solutions for those problems.
Positive change starts with individual actions. As a founding member of the council, you will have the opportunity to share your community’s concerns with Coastkeeper and other concerned residents from the county. The 2012-2013 council will help design council leadership and goals, meeting format and frequency and other key communications.
You will become an integral part of the San Diego Coastkeeper team by representing your community and participating in decision-making processes. All council members receive a complimentary membership to San Diego Coastkeeper.
Interested in joining?
Submit an application by August 31, 2012. Individuals selected for the 2012-2013 Community Advisory Council will be notified via phone or email by October 1, 2012. For more information, contract our community engagement coordinator at 619-758-7743 ext. 131 or at email@example.com.
Today, our wonderful Megan Baehrens, Coastkeeper’s executive director, paid a visit to San Diego 6 morning show to talk about Clear Blue 2012. Besides the fun activities we have planned for the event, Megan also talked about why this celebration is so important.
So what’s Clear Blue 2012 about? It’s the appreciation of the legislative laws that keep San Diego’s waters safe and awareness about pollution problems our waters face.
For example, Megan shared about urban runoff, San Diego’s #1 water quality problem, which poses a continuous threat to our waters, even during the summer. The good thing is–you can help prevent it. Watch the video to see what you can do.
Clear Blue 2012 also celebrates Clean Water Act’s 40th anniversary. This act has had your back for the past 40 years, preventing pollution discharge into the oceans, rivers and creeks. With your donations, volunteer work and support, Coastkeeper keeps the laws protecting your waters afloat by fighting to keep them active and untouchable by the polluters.
Clear Blue 2012 is fun–let’s celebrate our clean waters that we work so hard to protect.
That’s right: we work hard and play hard. Join us in celebration this Sunday, Aug. 5 from noon – 5 p.m. at Mission Bay’s Ventura Cove to have some fun in the sun and spread awareness of how to keep our waters swimmable, fishable and drinkable.
Urban runoff is San Diego’s #1 pollution problem. Because San Diego gets rain so infrequently, pollutants build up on the land over time. When it rains, those pollutants are carried into our storm drains and out to our creeks, rivers, bays and ocean. This pollution harms water quality, making it unsafe to swim and impacting the health of the wildlife that live in our waters.
Urban runoff is a frustrating pollution problem to tackle because it comes from so many different sources. But just because it’s a difficult problem to solve doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.
In fact, that’s exactly what San Diego Coastkeeper and dozens of other stakeholders from San Diego, Orange and Riverside Counties have been doing for the past month. Led by the staff at the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board, stakeholders from all three counties have gathered at three all-day meetings to address urban runoff.
The Regional Board is in the process of re-issuing the municipal stormwater permit required under the Clean Water Act that is the primary mechanism for cities to address stormwater issues. As part of the permitting process, the Regional Board convened a series of roundtable discussions to discuss how we can best use limited resources to see the biggest water quality improvements. A limited number of seats were allocated to representatives from cities in each county, environmental stakeholders, business stakeholders, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The meetings are open to the public, and each of the meetings has been attended by approximately 50 people. (Click here for the meeting schedule for the remaining meetings.)
These professionally moderated meetings provide an opportunity for the stakeholders to give feedback to the Regional Board staff about how the permit can allow, and in some cases compel, cities to improve their programs to tackle urban runoff issues. They also give stakeholders an opportunity to dialogue with eachother to search for common ground and common solutions.
The stakeholder meetings have fostered creative alternative approaches and encouraged stakeholder collaboration outside the formal meetings. San Diego Coastkeeper has met with representatives from the San Diego regional monitoring workgroup to discuss collaboration and ways to ensure that the data collected by our volunteer water quality monitoring program is used and useful.
We have also begun discussions with the City of Del Mar about how we can adapt our volunteer Pollution Patrol program to collect information that will help curb urban runoff in Del Mar.
As we continue through the process of developing the new stormwater permit, one thing becomes clear: everyone has a role to play in helping reducing pollution and keeping our waters clean. Over the next few months, as we refine and develop our Pollution Patrollers program, we will be calling for volunteers to step up and be the “eyes and the ears” out around the county looking for pollution problems. For those who can’t commit to formal patrols, we ask that everyone get informed about what urban runoff looks like and learn how to report problems when you see them in your everyday life. Our only hope of tackling this pollution problem is if all of us work together.
Snorkeling for lures.
That’s how I describe my childhood.
I grew up near the McKenzie River in Walterville, Ore. That’s just upstream from Eugene/Springfield area. Every summer my brother and I rode our bicycles to the “beach” on the river a mile from our house. (Yes, I did just call it the beach. You see, in Oregon, going to the beach means playing at the sandy swimming hole on the river). We’d lock our bikes to a tree and head upstream for about a half mile with our snorkels and fins. Just before the little trail hit private property, we’d balance our way out on a fallen tree from which we’d launch into the river. We snorkeled left and right, deep fishing holes and shallow ones too, collecting every treasure we could find.
Occasionally we’d see sunken beer cans and one time we found a wallet with a wedding ring in it. And we’d always see lures. New ones too, that some unexpecting fisherman just bought from the tackle store up the road, only to snag it on a boulder or branch caught underwater.
We’d carefully collect the lures and when we had enough, we’d have a garage sale and sell them back to the same fisherman heading down our street to the best fishing holes in town. What a business model!
It’s because of memories like these that I’m proud to celebrate the Clean Water Act’s 40th anniversary–this federal law helps organizations across the nation keep America’s waters fishable, swimmable and drinkable.
Today, the Waterkeeper Alliance joins to celebrate swimmable waters. Today, I will swim in the ocean.
Here at San Diego Coastkeeper, we work tirelessly to protect and restore fishable, swimmable and drinkable waters in San Diego. We want you to create your own memories about swimming at La Jolla Cove or surfing in Imperial Beach that you can carry with you wherever you live. Because these are the moments that matter in life and will be the stories that we share over a cup of coffee or during a long walk on the beach.
Go jump off a boat. Kayak into the sunset. Shred a wave. Train for a tri. Today we celebrate the Clean Water Act and San Diego’s swimmable waters.
We’re running out of water.
San Diego imports more than 80% of our water supply, with approximately half our water coming from the Colorado River. As Mike Lee’s recent article in the Union Tribune emphasized, our water supply has passed a tipping point. The Colorado River no longer reaches the Gulf of California, and the river is over-allocated–meaning that when water rights were handed out, they were based on the wettest years on record. The only certainty is that imported water prices will continue to rise.
And while we’re running out of water, we’re also flushing approximately 175 million gallons of partially-treated sewage out into the ocean every day. San Diego has repeatedly sought special permission from the Environmental Protection Agency to let the Point Loma Sewage Treatment Plant skirt Clean Water Act rules that the rest of the country has to follow about how clean our wastewater needs to be before we can dump it into local waters. Those rules were passed in 1972, a mere nine years after Point Loma opened. For 40 years, San Diego has failed to meet the national standard, instead relying on the “301(h) waiver” as justification to pollute our ocean.
But there’s hope. Yesterday, the City Council unanimously accepted the City’s Recycled Water Study, which lays out a path forward to increase local water supply as we decrease our pollution from the Point Loma Sewage Treatment Plant. As Council member David Alvarez said, indirect potable reuse is “one solution to two problems.”
Indirect Potable Reuse, or IPR, involves hyper-treating wastewater and then injecting it into groundwater or adding it to a reservoir, which ultimately joins the rest of the water supply. The Recycled Water Study sets out several alternatives for offloading over 100 million gallons a day from Point Loma and treating it to create both non-potable and potable water.
San Diego Coastkeeper urged the City Council to accept the study and move forward with implementation. We were joined by friends and colleagues from Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation, Surfrider Foundation, the Independent Rates Oversight Committee, Otay Water District, and the Metro Wastewater Joint Powers Authority.
City Council members spoke with one voice in emphasizing that water supply is a critical issue for San Diego. Council member David Alvarez, chair of the Natural Resources and Culture Committee, championed the issue, urging that we need to move forward with IPR implementation now. Council member Sherri Lightner, who led the City’s recent efforts to create a Comprehensive Water Policy, reacted to the recycled water proposal with a simple request: “More, please!” Council member Marti Emerald recognized the need for San Diego to stop relying on the 301(h) waiver.
Council member DeMaio explained his view that an effective water policy includes water supply options that are (1) affordable, (2) secure, (3) reliable, and (4) environmentally responsible. He also recognized that all decisions about implementing IPR in San Diego need to be made in the context of the 301(h) waiver and invited environmental stakeholders to the table to discuss implementing IPR in conjunction with addressing pollution from Point Loma.
Council member Todd Gloria highlighted that “we are already reusing our water,” since we are downstream from so many other users, like the city of Las Vegas. Council President Pro Tem Kevin Faulconer thanked Coastkeeper for our work “consistently nudging” the City to move forward on IPR.
Not only did the City Council adopt the study, but it authorized the Mayor “to refer a prioritization of the key implementation steps… to the Natural Resources and Culture Committee for its consideration.” This means that the City Council has given the green light to move forward with next steps on IPR, which include determining how costs for the project are split between water and wastewater agencies and customers, figuring out who owns the water, and beginning to design the facilities.
San Diego Coastkeeper is committed, as part of our mission, to ensuring “drinkable” waters here in San Diego. This means that we will continue to be actively engaged on this issue to make full-scale indirect potable reuse a reality here in San Diego.
Chances are that when you think of nature’s ability to absorb the nasty CO2 that we humans pump into the atmosphere, you think green. That is, trees and very likely the Amazon Rainforest. But what many of us don’t know is that our vast and beautiful ocean acts as a massive CO2 “sink” as well, absorbing approximately 25 percent of CO2 emissions. This CO2 absorption, however, is not all good. While the oceanic CO2 sink lessens atmospheric concentration of this greenhouse gas and assists in the prevention of climate change, the benefits don’t necessarily outweigh the costs. As oceanic CO2 concentrations increase, so does acidity. Indeed, the ocean has become almost 30 percent more acidic since the onset of the Industrial Revolution as a result of increasing atmospheric CO2 concentrations and thus increasing absorption by the sea. Acidity is expected to rise another 90-120 percent by the year 2100.
What does this mean for marine life and for you? Well, sea creatures will be forced to swim in water that increasingly resembles lemon juice. Of course, the ocean won’t become nearly that acidic (at least not in the next 100 years), but even small increases in acidity can have a detrimental effect on marine life. Shellfish will suffer as acidification inhibits shell formation. And we’re not just talking about the shrimp, crab and lobster that we humans enjoy. But smaller shell-clad creatures are an important food source for numerous species, including salmon, mackerel, herring, cod and even whales! Take away the food source, take away the prey. Likewise, coral reefs could be wiped out as corals become unable to build their skeletons, which will devastate tourism and fishing industries, and will rid vast swaths of coastline of the valuable protection that reefs provide against strong currents, waves and storms. Importantly, the aqueous laboratory proved that the coral reef is a valuable source of medicines used to treat serious conditions including cancer.
So what’s the story with CO2? In 2010 the U.S. emitted more than 6.8 billion tons of greenhouse gasses, the vast majority of which (5.7 billion tons) was CO2. In San Diego County alone, the hard data reveal that we emit some 34 million tons of CO2 (and CO2 equivalent) annually. Projections indicate that CO2 emissions will worsen materially by 2020 – increasing by more than 26 percent or to 43 million tons.
What can you do to save the valuable marine ecosystem? What can you do to make sure these CO2 projections don’t materialize or, better yet, reverse? I’m glad you asked. At the level of the individual, the use of passenger vehicles (a.k.a. driving) is the largest sources of CO2 emissions. An average American vehicle emits 1 pound of CO2 for every mile driven. As a driver, you can reduce your CO2 emissions in two ways: (1) drive less or (2) increase your fuel economy. Car pool if you can. Walk, ride a bike, take public transportation – even a portion of the way. Many trolley stops in San Diego have large parking lots nearby. If you take the trolley 7 miles to work, you’ll avoid emitting 14 pounds of CO2 every work day. That’s 3,500 pounds of CO2 a year (assuming 50 work weeks). If that’s not an option, you can certainly drive a little more slowly! Driving at 65mph instead of 75mph, for example, reduces CO2 emissions by approximately 15 percent. You can stop emitting hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds of CO2 annually by driving 10 mph less. And let’s face it, speeding never really gets you there faster. Remember the time you raced around that annoyingly slow driver blocking your path, only to find yourself squirming uncomfortably when the car caught up to you in traffic? Haha, we’ve all been there.
In addition to changing your driving habits, you can reduce your household energy consumption – another major contributor of CO2 emissions. Turn off lights, fans, TVs, stereos and heating and cooling systems when you don’t need them. Use energy efficient light bulbs. Shorten your showers, install a low flow shower head or take cooler showers! Hot water use is a major drain (no pun intended) on the energy supply.
In short, there are lots of things you can do to reduce your personal carbon footprint and save our oceans. Some effort is better than no effort. If you change just one CO2 emitting habit, you can have an impact. Although it would be best to start big, even small changes help.
P.S. If you want to get serious about reducing your CO2 footprint, check out this fancy calculator made available by the EPA.